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Elliot Carter - String Quartets

Carter: String Quartets
Complexes of simultaneous musical events constitute the most arresting and challenging feature of Carter’s music. While one instrument may accelerate to vanishing point, another slows to immobility; effusive lyricism may be set against complex metronomic pulses; as many as four independent musical streams can run in parallel – a multi-dimensional approach to musical form first expounded in the seminal String Quartet no. 1. This approach is vividly exemplified in the String Quartet No. 2, in which the music is composed out of the confrontations and collisions between the different instruments, each one of which has its own musical way of behaving, rather like (as Carter likes to compare it) the different characters in a Mozart operatic ensemble, though with very a different musical effect. A dozen years later, Carter’s next quartet went one step further, dividing the instruments into two contrasting duos, each playing in different tempos – so that, in effect, there are actually two separate pieces running simultaneously from beginning to end. The fourth and fifth quartets continue the theme, though with less memorable results.

CD Recommendations

3x Juilliard String Quartets 1–4 (Sony S2K 47229; 2 CDs; with Duo).

The Juilliard premiered the second and third quartets, and the composer himself supervised these recordings, so this set has a unique and palpable authority. Of the available versions, these also strike the best balance between muscularity and lyricism which is such a feature of Carter’s quartet writing.
Sheet Music by Carter